McNair Alumni Spotlight: Michelle Haikalis

McNair Gave Haikalis the Confidence and Skills to Thrive

Michelle Haikalis (McNair Scholar 2009-2012) earned her master’s degree in clinical psychology from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln in 2014 and is currently pursuing her doctoral degree at UNL in the same field. Below, Michelle describes how the McNair Scholars Program provided her with the confidence to pursue graduate-level study and the skills to thrive in her research and coursework.

The Ronald E. McNair Program was absolutely vital to my success in pursuing a Ph.D. in clinical psychology. Although my mother was unable to finish her undergraduate degree, she taught me about the importance of education in order to develop critical thinking skills and open up doors for career possibilities. Thanks to her, I greatly valued education upon entering college but knew little about post-undergraduate education or how to prepare for it. I would have been lost navigating the process of pursuing a graduate degree alone. Further, because I did not have models in my personal life of people who had attained Ph.D.’s, it was hard for me to know if I had what it took, or could develop the skills needed, to excel at the doctoral level.

The McNair Scholars Program identified my uncultivated potential and filled in the gaps from my background. Specifically, McNair provided me with opportunities to build critical skills necessary for success at the doctoral level and bolstered my confidence so that I would pursue the challenge of graduate school. The intensive research experiences central to the McNair Program helped me to build important research skills and knowledge that have served as an essential foundation—a foundation that I will continue to build upon throughout my career as a clinical scientist.


This program also connected me with mentors within my field who were much more willing to invest time and resources in me because of my connection to the McNair Program, which has an excellent reputation because of its rigorous training. This exceptional mentorship provided a model that I carry forward into my own mentorship of research assistants in my lab. The McNair staff and the mentors I connected with through my involvement in the program believed in my potential, and after months of working with them, I began to internalize the message that I was a scholar. This internalization shifted my thinking from self-doubt (e.g., “Am I capable of getting a doctorate?”) to confidence and drive (e.g., “What skills and experiences will help me to be a leader in my field?”), a mentality that has served me well in graduate school. Further, the financial support allocated through McNair gave me the freedom to give time to research that would have otherwise been spent on assorted part-time jobs less relevant to my career goals.

I am incredibly grateful to the McNair Scholars Program and know that without it, I would not be a mere two years away from obtaining a doctorate in clinical psychology. The program helped me develop the tools needed to go directly from undergraduate to graduate school. I have connected with many other McNair Scholars who verbalize a similarly significant role that the program has played in their lives. Thus, I can say with confidence that for many who are first-generation college students or belong to minority groups, the McNair Scholars Program acts as a very important bridge to graduate study that they might not be able to otherwise build alone.

– Michelle Haikalis, M.A., Clinical Psychology doctoral candidate at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln and UNL McNair Scholars Program Alum

Explore posts in the same categories: Graduate School, MSRE, Research & Internships, UNL McNair Alumni

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